Home > Tools of Engagement (Hot & Hammered #3)(4)

Tools of Engagement (Hot & Hammered #3)(4)
Author: Tessa Bailey

Wes paused with the water bottle halfway to his lips, eyebrows lifting at the sight of Bethany crossing the street. With a runway walk like that, the woman was on some kind of mission. He couldn’t help but take a moment to appreciate being in the presence of a living, breathing goddess, because soon enough, she was sure to rain down holy hell on somebody’s head. Probably mine.

To Wes, the nonstop contention between him and Bethany was foreplay. Plain and simple. But the more time that passed, the more he was starting to think that Bethany was on a different wavelength. One that didn’t include them sweating it out between the sheets. Which, Lord, he’d been fantasizing about daily and nightly since jump street.

Based on the information he’d been able to glean via Travis, who took pride in having the gossip through his fiancée, Bethany wasn’t the kind of woman who took part in a fling. Until recently, she’d been interested in the whole relationship thing, but with the inception of the Just Us League, she’d gone on a man hiatus. So even if Wes was in Port Jefferson for the long haul, his chances were slim.

His slim chances might also be due to the addictive vitriol they’d developed, but stopping was easier said than done. At this point, he couldn’t very well show up on her doorstep with a dozen long-stemmed roses and tell her she was the most breathtaking woman he’d ever met.

She’d roundhouse him in the nuts.

They were halfway through October, but nobody would guess it based on the way Bethany was dressed. She was wearing a white strapless tube top tucked into a long, flowing skirt with some kind of girly flower pattern on it. Her hair was down, curled a little, and blowing in the wind, showing off her pretty neck.

“Hell,” he muttered, shaking his head. The woman’s brother was no more than ten feet away, but even that wasn’t enough to stop Wes from appreciating the shake of her tits, the way her skirt’s thin material outlined her swaying hips.

There was nothing, nothing, more beautiful than what he was looking at right now. His palms started to perspire inside his work gloves, a fireball of lust lighting up and starting to spin in his belly. He’d been the one to wake up early this morning, instead of Laura, anticipating the extra chances to see Bethany. Be in her environment. Maybe even speak with her, get a rise out of her with a joke about their age difference, make her blush or her blue eyes flash. It got his blood moving like nothing else. Not even the danger of a sold-out Saturday-night rodeo.

Bethany Castle. The ultimate thrill ride.

It shouldn’t excite him to see her so determined to shake up their orderly construction zone, but hell, did it ever. Come on then, darlin’. Don’t hold back.

When she reached the door’s threshold, Wes leaned a hip against the wall and did his best to look bored, when in reality, his senses were sharpened like the tip of a number-two pencil before a test.

Bethany breezed through the opening left by the missing front door, and the cacophony of male voices and Sheetrock mutilation ceased. Her scent, an expensive mixture of tea and flowers, reached him through the cloud of sawdust, sending a rippling tightness through his abdomen. She was holding a manila envelope in her right hand and he caught the slightest tremor pass through her fingers before she crossed her arms over her chest.

“Hey, Beth,” Stephen called from the back of the house, his voice growing closer as he progressed to where they were standing, swiping a wrist across his sweaty forehead. “You need something? It’s a little early for measurements, isn’t it? We’ve barely finished gutting the place.” Bethany’s brother gestured to the carnage surrounding his work boots. “Won’t need couches for a while.”

Wes heard her long intake of breath. Did it . . . hitch there in the middle?

He narrowed his eyes.

There had been some tension between Bethany and Stephen since Wes had arrived in Port Jefferson. Without appearing too interested, he’d managed to gather a little intel from Travis and knew Bethany was looking to forsake the family business and strike out on her own, leading to the siblings being at odds. But it didn’t get in the way of their jobs and they still shared a wisecrack on occasion, so he’d let the whole notion of a rift fall by the wayside.

That said, he definitely caught the flash in Bethany’s eyes when Stephen reduced her job to couches.

Not that he would ever let on that he paid such close attention, but he’d seen one of the finished houses put up for sale by Brick & Morty. The men might be responsible for the heavy lifting, but Bethany’s staging sold the damn place. She worked a certain magic that turned a place from four empty walls to a . . . lifestyle. God, that sounded uppity as shit, but it was true. She created a better version of whatever life buyers were leading and made them envision themselves within it, almost like a challenge. Even Wes had been compelled to up his decorating game, so he’d brought Laura to Target and came home with an area rug, two new lamps, and a pumpkin pie–scented candle.

He’d lie about that under oath.

Bottom line, he didn’t appreciate the way Bethany’s big brother had whittled it all down to couches. More like couches, paint color, shelving, storage, character. He bit down hard on his bottom lip to stop himself from speaking up. The inner workings of the Castle family was none of his business. He was an extra in a movie that would continue long after he’d gone back to Texas.

Trying to ignore the sweep of disquiet in his chest, Wes focused on Bethany. There was something off about her today and it was making him extra reckless. Her usual composure was there, but it was on the blink. Coming and going, as if she could only hang on to it for a moment, before it slipped away.

There. She found her confidence, firming her shoulders and pinning Stephen with a look. “I’m not going to need measurements for this flip.” She pried the paperwork from where she’d stuffed it beneath her arm, then promptly shoved it back into place. “My permits arrived for the project across town, so . . . that’s it. I’m going to begin work on it next week.”

Stephen cocked an eyebrow. “You can’t do both?”


“Why the hell not?”

“Because I want to give this job my whole focus.” She shrugged a shoulder. “And if you think it’s just a matter of picking out couches, get Kristin to do it.”

The oldest Castle paled a little. Not surprising. Stephen’s wife was slightly unbalanced and even she knew it. If Kristin was put in charge of staging, she would probably do a horrific job on purpose, just so Stephen would have to hurt her feelings, giving her an opportunity to milk his guilt afterward.

Men and women and their mind games. Hell, he despised that shit, and yet, look at him and Bethany. They danced around each other with insults, making a big show of being incompatible when Christ knew that was the furthest thing from the truth.

Wes knew what incompatible looked like. Hell, he grew up in foster care. He could probably write a book about the way people could make each other unhappy. In the epilogue, he’d let everyone know he’d never be one of them.

Yes, sir. He would be shackle-free forever.

But Stephen almost seemed to enjoy those shackles and the mind games his wife inflicted. A damned confusing anomaly, to be sure.

“Bethany.” Stephen sighed. “Be reasonable about this.”

She rolled her eyes. “You’ve known about this since the beginning of fall. I’m sorry if you didn’t take me seriously enough to plan accordingly.”

Stephen’s nostrils flared, his silence in the wake of Bethany’s barb making the crew shift nervously. “I would have taken you seriously if the permits hadn’t been issued weeks ago.”

Bethany jolted and dropped the envelope, sending paperwork spewing out onto the ground. She bent down to pick it up quickly, those tremors back in her fingers. “Go to hell, Stephen,” she muttered under her breath. “You shouldn’t have been checking up on me with your friends at the permit office.”

Wes noticed that Stephen looked regretful over what he’d said, but Wes was more concerned about Bethany. What the hell did Stephen mean, she’d gotten the permits weeks ago? Why would she wait this long to start the job? Or even say anything?

She straightened with red cheeks and Wes ground his back teeth together.

Whatever was going on here, he didn’t like it. Sure, he got a rise out of her once in a while, but she always hit back. Bethany didn’t get shaken up like this.

“Come on, Beth.” Stephen sighed again. “Where are you going to get a crew by next week? Let me finish here and I’ll reschedule my next job so I can help you out.”

Her laugh was short. “By help out, you mean take over.”

Stephen didn’t bother denying it. “We’re heading into winter in a few months. You’re not going to find anyone good who’s looking for a gig that short. Trust me. Everyone worth a damn is already in this room.” He gestured to his sister. “Including you.”

“Oh, come on, jackass,” she returned. “Don’t backpedal now. You were doing so well at being condescending.”

Wes breathed a little easier with her tone back to normal, but his optimism dipped again when he saw how tightly she was holding the envelope. Her gaze flitted over to him and the color of her cheeks deepened another shade.

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